CentralChildrensDanceDramaFamilyFestive 16/17MusicalReview

The Snowman – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: Raymond Briggs

Music and Lyrics: Howard Blake

Director: Bill Alexander

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

The challenge this annual touring production sets itself is to, yet again, equally capture the enchantment and balletic fluidity of Raymond Briggs’ original picture-book love letter/homage to childhood innocence and Christmas folklore. Rest assured that this 2017 version does just that in snow-shoveled heaps of magical jingling joy.

Musical composer, Howard Blake’s timeless Walking In The Air refrain opens the show with mellowed gravitas. David Quigley’s grand-piano establishes an immediate rapport with fellow musicians, cast and audience alike, weaving a snow-dusted, cocoon-spun magical Mid-Winter Night’s Dream.

It would have to be a very cold, cold Christmas indeed without the signature refrain of I’m Walking In The Air allowing a sneaking, warm cockle-glow in our hearts. A glow as bright as both The Snowman’s nose and the little boy’s ice-tingled cheeks. As for the enchanting aerial ballet montage where the little boy and The Snowman fly to Santa’s North Pole HQ – only seeing is believing. CGI? Take The Snowman’s hat off and eat it. (Spoiler alert – yes, they do the spouting whale as well!)

What may be the worst best-kept secret is that this production is an exquisite balletic mime redolent with eloquence, seamless technical imagination and heartstring-tugging conviction. Set pieces follow the narrative frames of Briggs’ original picture book storyline though for most it is the1982 animation that impacts on our terms of reference. Apart from the ubiquitous airborne aria from Aled Jones (he re-recorded an accompanying track for this production) and perhaps the jingly-belled jig for Father Christmas, much of the score might previously have passed by as incidental. The spellbound audience leaves tonight’s enchanting evening much wiser and richer for it.

among the corny snow-themed cracker jokes in the programme notes we are reminded with brief, but deserved, civic pride that Howard Blake was inspired to compose additional music when watching The Rep’s 1993 stage show of The Snowman.

Were the errant passer-by to consider that The Snowman posters can promise nothing more than he/she has not seen before reflection would be advised. It would be a Jack Frosted heart, iron-wrought in bitterness that didn’t warm either to the phenomenal flying sequences or equally the Christmas Tree Fairy’s pas de deux with The Snowman.

There are delicious, subtle homages to Frederick Ashton’s Tales Of Beatrix Potter and not least, Birmingham’s own David Bintley’s Birmingham Royal Ballet Still Life At The Penguin Café where the Christmas Eve woodland creatures encounter The Snowman and postilion little boy buzzing about on motorbike and sidecar. Seated next to the reviewer, Rep architect Graham Winteringham, having been to every year’s The Snowman opening nights, assured The Review Hub that said vehicle was a native built Small Heath BSA 350cc,  tamed for stage productions. It seemed appropriate.

Director, Bill Alexander’s Snowman is a welcome return to the Rep for yet another winter week’s delight summoning up all the anticipated ingredients of a sentimental sleigh-ride through a wonderland of dizzy, witty delights. Our hearts, if not our dreams melt with the Snowman’s Christmas morning’s departure. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Runs until 15 January 2017 | Image: Alastair Muir

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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